All-Star Weekend tips off on Friday night in New Orleans with Spurs swingman Jonathon Simmons bringing the juice to the Rising Stars Challenge. Simmons joins top NBA draft picks Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell as part of Team USA, which faces a collection of international players led by Latvian sensation Kristaps Porzingis.
After going undrafted, Simmons famously paid $150 for a tryout with San Antonio’s D-League affiliate, which ultimately led to his shot with the Spurs, so watching him rub elbows with former NCAA stalwarts like Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky is uplifting. His high-octane game and ability to finish at the rim are perfectly suited for Simmons to excel in this type of exhibition that features first-and-second year players.
Like Simmons before him, Austin Spurs Forward Cory Jefferson hopes to ascend to the NBA via the developmental league. The Killeen native was selected by San Antonio with the last pick of the 2014 draft, and promptly traded to the Brooklyn Nets. After stints with the Suns and Cavaliers, Jefferson joined the Spurs in Austin, who he will represent at the D-League All-Star Game in the Superdome on Saturday.
With his second consecutive All-Star Game appearance Kawhi Leonard has undisputedly become the face of the franchise, as predicted by Gregg Popovich back in 2012. Already a Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi has elevated his game to new heights, inserting his name into the league MVP conversation.
Earlier this week, teammate LaMarcus Aldridge lamented that Leonard was the only Spur selected for Sunday’s All-Star Game despite San Antonio’s impressive record.
“I’m older, so I’m not going to come home and be mad or anything,” Aldridge told The Vertical. “But I do think that it was wrong for Golden State to have four [All-Stars] and we’re a few games behind and only have one. It is what it is. I’m in this position and I’m going to enjoy my break and just come back fresh.”
While Coach Pop would more than likely rather see Leonard also get some rest than risk injury in an essentially meaningless exhibition game, the league’s mid-season classic offers casual viewers the opportunity to witness what those in San Antonio have known for some time. Additional All-Star nods are no doubt in Leonard’s future as he enters his basketball prime.